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Saving Graces
Two dogs find a permanent place in the heart of a family that desperately needed them
Ashley (left) was seven, and Cali five, when they found themselves in need of new homes and new families.

I wasn't sure I had the ability to love another dog after Ashley broke my heart.

 
Her death came suddenly on the kind of tender spring day she loved, a soft breeze riffling her fur on her walk, as she lifted her great head to breathe in the scent of awakened life and new beginnings.
 
And then, not long after, she began to experience seizures, lying distorted and convulsed on the living room rug, never to come back to us.
 
In the end, it was an unknown brain tumor that took our loving friend, with nothing to be done when a Shepherd is close to 14, our vet said, and in the twilight of old age.
 
Saying goodbye seared like fire as I pressed my face to hers and held her in those final moments. How do you thank a dog for saving you?
 
Ashley came into our lives at seven, when her owner moved to a nursing home. We were a broken family across the street with one member struggling through a difficult depression.
 
Previously, she had escaped from her home whenever possible and bounded to our yard, as if she had already chosen where to spend her days. And in time she healed us with her love and comedy, supplying hope and joy in a time when others had abandoned us.
 
There were many lessons learned from loving Ashley, including that adopting an older dog wasn't foolish, as many said.
 
Ashley died in April, and I worked for months to reignite the part of me that dimmed with her loss. I cried as if I could never stop. And then, said my final farewell when I could bear to bury her ashes under a tree in the yard where we had sat so many summer days watching birds in the warm sun.
 
With our dog gone, the house was as cavernous as our hearts. I felt drawn, as the months passed, to peek into the regional animal shelter databases, although I told anyone who would listen that I didn’t think I could survive another dog.
 
Each time, though, I stopped at the forlorn face of a beautiful, five-year-old yellow Lab with a seizure disorder, whose family had to let her go. I wondered who would ever take that dog, knowing the care and expense—and potential heartache—that accompanied her.
 
Soon, I thought I’d ask about her, just to see, and before long, I found myself meeting with Cali's family, who ended up living close by. And then, after much thought, we brought Cali home. 
 
It's going to be a journey to meet her needs. And there are two cats who aren’t exactly thrilled. But when I begin to worry, I just watch as Cali settles in, gaining confidence to pull out toys for a game, snuggling into our beds, and following like a shadow as we move about the house. 
 
I think we needed Cali as much, or more, than she needed us. And in time, everyone will acclimate. Already, love and thankfulness shine from her—after every meal, every treat, every dose of medicine, or even a walk around the yard—as if to say thanks for giving me a chance, for choosing an older dog, for believing that every dog has worth.
 
I can already see that Cali has the ability to save us from our sadness over Ashley. And so, the cycle continues.

 

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Michele Morgan Bolton lives in Middleborough, Mass. She believes strongly that life isn't complete, or really much fun, without a dog.
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